How cool is that for a title? It rhymes and the ! just seals the deal, doesn’t it? I’ll discuss titles some other time–though, if you think about it, they are beginnings of a sort. Once I turn the page, I become a little pickier. Bookaholics have to be picky. As I weed out books from my shelf, I do a scan of the first few pages, then decide if I want to continue. It’s a great equalizer since I will recycle books by established and debuts authors. If the opening doesn’t grab me, the rest won’t either. “But the story really gets going after the first few chapters.” This I’ve heard before to convince me against a revision letter, but that’s too late for me–unless it’s a weighty tome, like Don Quixote. Here, I have different expectations. For a winning beginning in romance I want to:
See something. Show me where this story takes place. I’m not a fan of starting a story with a line of dialogue, unless it’s eye-popping. If it must be done, follow with grounding. Who says what, why did she say that and where are they?
Like someone. Is the first character I see a person I could love? Please let it be so. For me, the heroine has to sell me. She’s my quasi-surrogate and I want her to get what she needs (and wants).
Follow the action. Are they doing anything noteworthy? Let’s hope so, otherwise, recycling. (By now, you might know my pet peeve about starting a story with someone in a car) Often, I see projects where the opening is in the wrong place (or should be deleted).
Connect with the writer’s voice. Enjoyment of how a writer puts words together is key. It’s funny, there can be a perception of “sameness” in romance writing, but every writer has a different voice. It’s the truth.
Writers spend a long time crafting that beginning, especially since editors don’t start reading in the middle (sometimes I do). Since I’ve begun a story a few times, I understand the tendency to go back, edit, maybe add details about the backstory to better inform the reader. The whole info-dump in the opening can be a rookie mistake that lands a story in the trash. Over time, practicing, endless typing, thinking and rewriting will sharpen your beginning. Studying others is an important tool as you develop your own storytelling gifts. Also, keep in mind even more steps, in addition to the ones above:
Keep the beginning spare. There’ s a temptation to embellish, bedazzle and overwrite in those first few paragraphs. Don’t.
Make the meeting happen. There’s no law that says the hero and heroine can’t meet in Chapter Two. But try bringing them together sooner, abruptly, unexpectedly (but they don’t have to literally bump into each other and go, “Whoa” with electric bolts singeing their arms).
Gently show us where these people are. A little setting detail. A sprinkle of backstory. Not too much. Not to little. I mean, you don’t want to leave us hanging in space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
Present your thesis by the end of Chapter One. I want an idea of the main problem/story arc right in the beginning. It puts the reader in that mode and keeps her there through the chapters (as the writer builds momentum along the way). Once you present your thesis, you can totally mess with your reader’s head.
And then the fun truly begins. Stay tuned for more tips….